Dan

Escalation

The woman sits on the bus, like the rest of us. In strained silence, watching the sun leak out of the clouds and rehydrate our shadows as they flicker on the dirty rubber floor.

Then her phone rings. We all get to hear some terrible Billy Joel song I didn’t know existed, and will be very thankful to forget. Everyone like me who doesn’t have headphones blocking their vision scuffles their feet and looks around. Nasty looks. Nobody knows whose phone it is.

It keeps going. Jesus. It’s still going.

But it’s her phone. She answers it.

“You are a bad baby,” she says. No hello. Then, “You are a very bad baby.”

We’re wondering if this is just a warped term of endearment. I giggle a little, imagining a guilty baby calling his mom. “It happened again. The death brown, Ma. It happened. I’m sorry.” But we don’t get to hear the other side. She sits and listens for a while, and we sink into the mystery of it. A bad baby. Or a bad man.

“I’m very upset with you all right now,” she suddenly yells. And she does sound upset. Now we all think something the baby said made her very angry. Maybe the baby and his baby friends are all in trouble, now.

But she yells that so loud that the bus driver turns around and hollers, “Hey. No yellin’ on my bus this mornin’, alright?” And the alright manages to encapsulate the sound of a man working split shifts and eating cheap pre-packaged food to support his family. Maybe he has a bunch of bad babies, too, we think.

So she puts a hand over the phone, and very theatrically mouths a big “SORRY” to the people around her. Nobody looks her in the eye. We’re all still puzzling it out, and it’s about to get worse.

Before the woman puts the phone back to her ear, we hear a loud squawk from it. It sounds remarkably like a baby crying. But her voice goes into a parody of stern, like she’s heard on daytime TV maybe, and she tries to talk over what I still imagine is a crying baby, but can’t be. “Does your husband know about this? I said, does your HUSBAND KNOW ABOUT THIS?” And by the time she gets to the end of saying it the second time, she’s shrieking, holding the phone at arms length like it’s going to bite her, and her face is turning red.

We’re starting to get legitimately worried for her and the baby or whoever’s on the other end of the line, but the bus driver just doesn’t give a shit and pulls over to the side of the road. “Candy. Get out,” he orders. That must be her name, we realize. Even though it sounds like a curse when he says it.

Candy ignores him and the rest of us, fuming at the phone in her hand. “You are still a very bad baby.” Somehow it becomes clear to us that she’s somehow indicting the driver when she says it.

He stands up out of his seat, and sighs as he walks into view of the camera that’s recording all this for some poor person to have to watch back later. “I’m sick up to here with you riding on my bus trying to start shit. If you don’t hang up or get out the bus, I’ll have dispatch call the cops and have them at the transfer point.” The rest of us don’t have to watch it later. We’re all watching it now, missing our damn transfers because of Candy’s very bad baby.

So finally, Candy stands up. She looks me straight in the eye, and says, “I’m very upset with you all, you know.”

Then she walks past me and looks at some old woman across the way. “Does your husband know about this?”

As she steps off the bus, the driver lowers himself back into his seat gingerly, shaking his head. She turns around as the door closes, and points the phone at him, violently flipping him off with the other hand. “You are a very bad baby!”

“Sorry folks,” the driver says over the intercom. “I don’t know how Ma found out what route I drive. We’re gonna be late to the transfer point.”

Someone up front derisively yells, “You a bad baby!” We all laugh a little. Not a lot… just enough to try to forget that it all happened. But I can’t get that god damn Billy Joel song out of my head.

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